Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Boy and his Toys

Some guys go for fast shiny cars. Some guys are fancy dressers.  Some guys invest in vintage wines or big houses.  Some guys go into sports. Some guys join prestigious clubs. Some guys are just smart enough to impress the women on their own, but not me.
For me my toys are guitars.  I wasn’t rich or athletic or handsome and certainly not smart enough to get a girls attention, so I use a guitar.
Luckily I grew up at a time when music was changing from big bands to folk music and rock and roll. The guitar became a symbol of my generation.
When the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan show, I noticed their movement and clothing but was intensely interested in what guitars they were playing. George played this hollow body guitar similar to ones I’d seen on country music shows. John played a guitar with not one, not two, but three pickups. And Paul played a violin looking guitar backwards. I did the same observations with every other show that had guitar players on.
Then I would go to the local music stores and look at their selections. Most of the stores were selling pianos or orchestra instruments so the guitar variety was slim. The ones that did had only a few and most were put up and away from touching or actually trying it out. And when you did pick up a guitar the salesman would walk over and stand next to you so as to make sure you didn’t nick or scratch the finish. I don’t blame them. Us kids were picking up instruments we knew we couldn’t afford.
What were the other options? I ventured into the pawnshops and the walls were full of guitars. They didn’t look like anything I had seen on television, but the prices was right for a kid without much money.
Now remember guitars in pawnshops are not the best quality. They are usually leftover from bands passing through who cannot pay the bar bills. Some guitars are antiques from some family relative who didn’t know the value but they were not cool guitars that the kids wanted. If we had only known at the time of the treasures we were passing over?
So kids who wanted to play folk music or rock and roll picked up whatever they could afford. Strange brands and poor setup guitars were our training ground. Rusty strings, bad electronics, cracked bodies and did I say bad setups were how we learned to play the guitar.
Some kids had rich parents and bought the guitars that the stars were playing, but most of them couldn’t play very well. There were bands that had the cool equipment and clothing and then there were bands that could play the music.
Slowly different guitar models were tried. Some played and sounded good and some just were examples of what not to play. Continuously learning about manufacturers, designs, strings, and all the aspects of what makes a guitar sound good, not just look cool.
As I became more educated, so were my idols. Some models appeared again and again. Then I realized the manufacturers were making offers to groups hitting the top of the pops to show off their guitars. It was excellent marketing.
Fender, Gibson, Vox, Rickenbacker, Guild, and Martin were the most coveted brands before dozens of other guitar makers came on the market. Each manufacturer had a variety of styles and shapes. It would have taken years and hundreds of dollars to purchase them all.
Luckily, there was a music shop that rented guitars. Our band would go in Friday after school and choose the equipment needed for the weekend. The rent was cheap and we got to sample all sorts of instruments. I even bought a few, knowing they were well used.
Now guitars have several different value levels. Some you can buy at the big box stores as a starter kit and some are vintage models costing more than some homes. And just like the handling feel of a car or a taste of a fine wine or the scent of a good cigar, you find your own dancing partners.
My toy box may be filled, but there is always room for another. With all the advancements in the past decades, the sound can match any imaginable effect or model, but it is the feel that makes the difference. A guitar is a wooden teddy bear that you hug close to your body and caress like a woman.

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